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Hetty practices her writing -- and signs her name on several hand written documents -- this listing is for TWO of the hand written letters -- signed Hetty on one and H H Robinson -- on the other ---
Hetty Green(November 21, 1834 – July 3, 1916),nicknamed theWitch of Wall Street, was an as "the richest woman in America" during theGilded Age. She was known for her wealth and was named by theGuinness Book of World Recordsas the "greatestmiser". She amassed a fortune as a financier when other major financiers were men.After her death,The New York Timesstated that "It was the fact that Mrs. Green was a woman that made her career the subject of endless curiosity, comment and astonishment."
- 1Birth and early years
- 3Investing career
- 5Later life
- 7See also
- 10Further reading
- 11External links
Birth and early years
Henrietta ("Hetty") Howland Robinson was born in 1834 inNew Bedford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Mott Robinson and Abby Howland, the richest whaling family in the city. Her family members wereQuakerswho owned a largewhalingfleet and also profited from theChina trade.She had a younger brother who died as an infant.
At the age of two, Hetty was sent to live with her grandfather, Gideon Howland, and her Aunt Sylvia. Hetty would read the stock quotations and commerce reports for her grandfather and picked up some of his business methods. At the age of 10, Hetty entered Eliza Wing'sboarding schoolinSandwich, Massachusetts. Hetty's father became the head of the Isaac Howlandwhaling firmupon Gideon's death, and Hetty began to emulate her father's business practices. Hetty learned to readledgersandtrade commodities. At the age of 15, Hetty enrolled for two summer sessions at theFriends Academy. Hetty also attendedAnna Cabot Lowell'sFinishing school, and appeared as a New Bedforddebutantein 1854, before moving to New York to live with a cousin of her mother's,Henry Grinnell. Yet, it was not long before Hetty returned to New Bedford, alternating between her father's house and her aunt's house. There, as Janet Wallach states, "...by pursuing her father's interests she not only won his praise, she shared his pleasure in making money."
Because of Gideon's influence and that of her father, and possibly because her mother was constantly ill, she was close to her father and was reading financial papers to him by the age of six. When she was 13, Hetty became the familybookkeeper.Hetty accompanied her father to thecountinghouses, storerooms, commodities traders, and stockbrokers. In the evening, she read him the news.:45,53
Her mother, Abby Robinson, died on February 21, 1860, at the age of 51, but her $100,000 estate went to her husband, except for an $8,000 (equivalent to $228,000 in 2019) house for Hetty. In June, Hetty's father sold off his interest in the whaling fleet and invested inWilliam Tell Coleman's shipping firm, becoming a partner. While in New York, he also invested in government bonds, which paid 6% interest in gold. Back in New Bedford, Hetty's aunt Sylvia gave Hetty $20,000 (equivalent to $569,000 in 2019) in stocks as a gift. While staying with her father in New York, Hetty would meet her future husband, Edward Henry Green.:54,63–65,69,71–77
Edward Robinson died on June 14, 1865, leaving Hetty approximately $6 million (equivalent to $100,213,000 in 2019), which included $919,000 in cash, a warehouse in San Francisco, with the remainder in a trust fund from which she received the income. Yet she had no control over theprincipal.:80–81
Hetty's auntSylvia Ann Howlandalso died in 1865, soon after her father.In September 1863, Sylvia Howland had willed half of her $2million estate (equivalent to $33,404,000 in 2019) to charities and entities in the town of New Bedford; the rest would be in a trust for Hetty, but once again without her control of the principal. By December, Hetty challenged the will's validity in court by producing an earlier will, made in January 1862, that left the entire estate to Hetty, and included a clause invalidating any subsequent wills.:68,81–88,102The will was challenged in court and the case,Robinson v. Mandell, which is notable as an early example of theforensicuse of mathematics, was ultimately decided against Robinson after the court ruled that the clause invalidating future wills, and Sylvia's signature to it, wereforgeries.After five years of legal battles, Hetty was awarded a settlement of $600,000 (equivalent to $12,131,000 in 2019).
Edward Henry Green ofVermontlearned the business trade in Boston before working in theFar Eastfor the next 20 years. By the age of 44, he was apartnerin theRussell Styrgis & Company, and a millionaire. Yet, Hetty's father stipulated in his will that Green would not inherit Hetty's money, which was to be "free from the debts, control or interference of any such husband.":77–80
On July 11, 1867, at the age of 33, Hetty married Edward Henry Green. She made him renounce all rights to her money before the wedding. The couple moved to his home inManhattan. When her cousins tried to have her indicted for forgery based on theRobinson v. Mandelldecision, the couple moved overseas toLondon, where they lived in theLangham Hotel. Their two children,Edward Howland Robinson Green(called Ned) andHarriet Sylvia Ann Howland Green Wilks(called Sylvia), were born in London: Ned on August 23, 1868, and Sylvia on January 7, 1871.
They separated in 1885, but remained married, and spent more time together in their later lives.:152,220,239
Hetty followed acontrarian investingstrategy, in her words, "I buy when things are low and nobody wants them. I keep them until they go up and people are crazy to get them. That is, I believe, the secret of all successful business." Hetty invested the interest from her father'strust fund, once again investing as her father had done, in Civil War bonds, which paid a high yield in gold, augmented by railroad stocks. Her annual profits during her first year in London, amounted to $1.25 million, while the most she ever earned in a day was $200,000. Hetty went on to say, "I believe in getting in at the bottom and out on top. I like to buy railroad stocks or mortgage bonds. When I see a good thing going cheap because nobody wants it, I buy a lot of it and tuck it away." Hetty's discountedgreenbacks, bought during the Civil War, were increased in value when Congress passed legislation in 1875 backing them with gold. As Hetty said of her investing philosophy, "Before deciding on an investment, I seek out every kind of information about it.":89,98–99,118,127,247
When the Green family returned to the United States in October 1873, after Edward suffered losses on Wall Street, they settled in Edward's hometown ofBellows Falls, Vermont. Yet, Hetty quarreled with Edward's mother, until her death in 1875. That same year, Hetty covered Edward's losses associated with the London and San Francisco Bank, of which he was one of the directors. Hetty bailed Edward out once again in 1884.:116,122–129,148
After the 1885 collapse of the financial house John J. Cisco & Son, of which Edward was a partner, it was disclosed Edward had $700,000 in debt. Hetty Green's $500,000 represented one-quarter of the banks's assets. The bank refused to allow Hetty's transfer of her $26 million in stocks, bonds, mortgages, and deeds to the Chemical National Bank, until Edward's debt was paid. In the end, Hetty made the transfer and paid off her husband's debt, but never forgave Edward.:148–151
Hetty set up an office in the Chemical Bank, but continued to live in boarding houses,flats, or hotels. By then she was known as the "Queen of Wall Street.":159–161,165,208
Hetty's investing philosophy, in her words, included, "In business generally, don't close a bargain until you have reflected on it overnight." She also thought, "It is the duty of every woman, I believe, to learn to take care of her own business affairs," and "A girl should be brought up as to be able to make her own living..." "Whether rich or poor, a young woman should know how a bank account works, understand the composition of mortgages and bonds, and know the value of interest and how it Green circa 1905
Green's thriftiness was legendary. She was said never to turn on the heat or use hot water. She wore one old black dress and undergarments that she changed only after they had been worn out; she did not wash her hands and she rode in an old carriage. She ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents. One tale claims that Green spent half a night searching her carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents. Another asserts that she instructed her laundress to wash only the dirtiest parts of her dresses (the hems) to save money on soap.
Yet, from Hetty's perspective, "Just because I dress plainly and do not spend a fortune on my gowns, they say I am cranky or insane.":220
Green conducted much of her business at the offices of theSeaboard National Bankin New York, surrounded by trunks and suitcases full of her papers; she did not want to pay rent for her own office. Later unfounded rumors claimed that she ate onlyoatmeal, heated on the office radiator. Possibly because of her usually dour dress (due mainly to frugality, but perhaps in part related to her Quaker upbringing), she was given the nickname "the Witch of Wall Street".
She was a successful businesswoman who dealt mainly inreal mines, and lent money while acquiring numerous mortgages. The City of New York came to Green for loans to keep the city afloat on several occasions, most particularly during thePanic of 1907; she wrote a check for $1.1million and took her payment in short-term revenue bonds. Keenly detail-oriented, she would travel thousands of miles alone—in an era when few women would dare travel unescorted—to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars.
Green entered thelexiconof turn-of-the-century America with the popular phrase "I'm not Hetty if I do look green."O. Henryused this phrase in his 1890s story"The Skylight Room"when a young woman, negotiating the rent on a room in a rooming house owned by an imperious old lady, wishes to make it clear she is neither as rich as she appears nor as naive.
Her frugality extended to family life. Her son Ned had to suffer a leg amputation, because she delayed so long in looking for a free clinic that his case became incurable. She was wealthy, yet she chose to live like a pauper.
In Hetty's words, "I don't think society means what some rich people would have us believe, I should get very tired of living in one of the great houses in New York, going out all night and sleeping all day. They don't have any real pleasure. It's intercourse with people that I like." Yet she was also a secretphilanthropist, avoiding the attention of thepress. In her words, "I believe in discreetcharity." Hetty also had the reputation of being an effective nurse, caring for her young and old neighbors. Her favorite poem wasWilliam Henry Channing's "My Symphony," which starts with "To live content with small means...":184,219,224–226
As a young man, Ned moved away from his mother to manage the family's properties inChicagoand, later, Texas. In middle age, he returned to New York; his mother lived her final months with him.
Green's daughter Sylvia lived with her mother until her thirties. Hetty Green disapproved of all of her daughter's suitors, suspecting that they were after her fortune. Sylvia finally marriedMatthew Astor Wilkson February 23, 1909, after a two-year courtship. A minor heir to theAstorfortune, Wilks entered the marriage with $2 million of his own, enough to assure Green that he was not a gold digger. Nonetheless, she compelled him to sign aprenuptial agreementwaiving his right to inherit Sylvia's fortune.
When her grown children left home, Green moved repeatedly among small apartments inBrooklyn Heightsand after 1898, inHoboken, New Jersey,mainly to avoid New York's property tax, though she did loan money to the city at reasonable rates. Hetty then regularlycommutedto her office in the Chemical Bank on Broadway. By 1905, Hetty was New York's largest lender.:230–231,256Green's apartment was not heated and her diet consisted of eggs, onions, and dry oatmeal.She did not eat hot food because it would have increased her fuel bill.
In her old age, she developed ahernia, but refused to have an operation, preferring to use a stick to press down the swelling. She eventually moved her office to theNational Park Bank, when she thought she had been poisoned at the Chemical Bank, a fear she had most of her life.:276,282–283